Just a week after it being over, we are so back. The last Guide was a touch thinner than usual but this week, we have a couple classics to explore. The first arrives in Tokyo, as Fuminori Abe and Takuya Nomura meet for a firefight that’s earned match of the decade acclaim. Two days later, Bryan Danielson and Christian Cage make some magic of their own, wrestling a gorgeous main event to close AEW Collision.
That’s not Danielson’s only hit either, earning that shot with an opener opposite Swerve Strickland. Meanwhile in London, NJPW brings a blockbuster double main event only for WWE to produce their own G1 Climax bout on RAW, as Bronson Reed battles Gunther. Finally, we return to AXS TV, with Eddie Edwards and Frankie Kazarian finishing their feud in a Killer Impact match. Folks, we are so back, let’s talk about professional wrestling.
Bryan Danielson vs. Swerve Strickland (AEW Dynamite)
Tasked with opening Title Tuesday, Bryan Danielson and Swerve Strickland certainly did their part. Kicking off Dynamite with the night’s best match, the two Washington natives battled for a shot at Christian Cage’s TNT gold. It’s been a big few months for Strickland, steadily converting potential to something more tangible. With his efforts opposite Darby Allin and now Hangman Page, he feels more and more cemented as one of AEW’s lead heels. Bryan Danielson is, well, Bryan Danielson.
I’m always intrigued by Strickland’s showings in matchups like this, as he’s such a unique talent. Obviously there’s still overlap with others, but there are also almost singular traits to Strickland’s style, which adds a novelty to his first-time meetings. Some of those elements are on display early too, as Strickland gets creative after an initial stalemate on the mat. They’re able to play around some at the bell, experimenting as duelling chants tell the tale.
The physicality soon increases, with Strickland noticeably meeting Danielson in the middle on that front. Their brawl on the apron favours Strickland, landing a heavy slam and targeting Danielson’s back. Strickland is very impressive in this portion, operating with poise as he sprinkles in some more dynamic offence. That sets the stage for a desperate Danielson comeback, following Strickland to the floor with a knee and then dropkicking him in centre ring.
It works a treat too, totally hooking the already engaged live crowd. That unlocks their back and forth exchanges, with Strickland frequently halting Danielson’s momentum. Those more explosive offerings don’t lose sight of what got them there either, with Danielson’s injured back costing him late. That’s probably the highlight of the entire match, as Danielson can’t even push off the buckle for his charging dropkicks. Instead, he collapses, eating a violent Swerve Kick for his troubles.
Strickland’s edge really pays dividends here, performing with the spite necessary to belong opposite Danielson. That shows as they reach the final near falls, with those in attendance buying Strickland as a potential victor. Ultimately, they do some business with Hangman instead, advancing that conflict while setting up Danielson’s shot at Christian Cage. They add an extra beat beyond that interference too, providing the match with a still somewhat satisfying conclusion.
While clearly the TV cut of a potential PPV main event, this remains tremendous. The back injury adds some drama but those touches aside, it’s mostly an offensive showcase. Whether they’re wrestling on the mat, trading knockout blows or exchanging signature moves, it’s often an outright shootout, particularly late. That approach certainly connects too, especially for this television runtime, as the work’s quality makes for an incredibly exciting opener.
In addition, Danielson and Strickland always bring their own quirks to the party, providing those sequences with a more distinct personality. Even when playing the same game, they do feel in contrast to one another, with that stylistic clash seeming present throughout. With increased time in a grander setting, that dynamic may be handled with more nuance, or Danielson’s back injury could play a bigger role than possible here.
Fortunately, that can still happen, which is hopefully apparent to those in AEW. Not a single fan left this match uninterested in a sequel, let alone an extended programme. Quite the opposite, with this snapshot only making that possibility more enticing. At times, AEW are too hesitant to give us a glance at these dynamics, so I’m glad that “the war” unleashed this. Very good match, even if just a preview of what they’re capable of as a main event programme.
Fuminori Abe vs. Takuya Nomura (Kakuto Tanteidan)
In recent years, the Astronauts have become an almost mythical force of nature among hardcore fans. Often cited as the world’s premier tag team, Fuminori Abe and Takuya Nomura have been building quite the catalogue in Big Japan, venturing elsewhere along the way. That’s included All Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as a trip to Germany for last month’s wXw World Tag Team Festival. Since last year, Nomura has been somewhat of a regular for the former.
In January, that positioned him for one of the year’s best matches, standing alongside Kento Miyahara in a thrilling tag title tilt against Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi. Just a few weeks prior, he’d challenged Miyahara for the Triple Crown Title, battling each other only a day after claiming tag gold. Nomura has wrestled Abe previously also, last sharing two bouts in 2021. Even still, this was a unique occasion, coming together to promote a special show.
Inspired by BattlARTS, the event featured five matches, with Abe and Nomura’s main event dominating the headlines. This earned immediate acclaim, being swiftly nominated as an instant classic. My response to that was concern, as it usually is when I’ll soon be catching up on something that’s been declared brilliant. In all seriousness, I knew that this’d be a blast on physicality alone, though I did wonder about the importance of context.
I’ve seen a handful of Astronauts matches, but not as many as I’d like. Instead, they’re a team that I’m aware of from a distance, rather than one that I’m sincerely connected to. Naturally, that hurdle did impact my experience some, especially at first, as the violence isn’t accompanied by an emotional gravity for me. With that being said, much of this speaks for itself, with the violence leading the way in that regard.
Early on, it almost feels like a spar, as they almost playfully work their way through the feeling out process. That even includes some sparks of comedy, but there’s a sense of danger that always feels within reach, especially on the feet. Those quirkier elements provide an interesting backdrop to their match, especially with the more direct destination ahead of them. After a few minutes, Abe throws a right hand out of almost necessity, increasingly frustrated by Nomura’s gesturing.
That unlocks our first flirt with the eventual firefight, as Nomura charges further in that direction by punting Abe on the mat. Even as it veers away from that initial dynamic, the match remains armed with colour, earning some especially glorious facial expressions from Abe. An exchange of headbutts soon leaves both men floored, with Nomura chopping away at Abe’s legs in the meantime. His response is a gorgeous dragon screw, swiftly testing Danielson’s place on top of that league table.
Abe is extraordinary here, staggering his way to horrifying punts, sacrificing his own leg as he uncorks thunderous kicks. After having his own output not only matched but exceeded, Nomura happily embraces that challenge, escalating things further. Abe’s right hands become a central theme, grimacing after almost every blow but out of sheer desperation, continuing to throw them anyway. He’s increasingly wearing this war though, finding himself on the ropes as they cross ten minutes.
Nomura threatens a gruesome submission finish in this portion, being greeted by further right hands until another headbutt duel arrives. They eventually go into an explosive exchange that while executed perfectly, isn’t conceptually foreign by any means. With that being said, it’s placed with such restraint here, feeling truly earned after glimpses of similar had come and gone previously. It’s generally rougher than that, more grounded, which makes the explosion especially effective.
The prior rhythm re-emerges afterwards too, with Nomura producing the match’s finest visual by selling his own right hand. Now sporting a head covered in blood, Abe begins to score knockdowns, including a frankly outrageous roundhouse kick. At one point, he yanks Nomura’s head by the hair, pulling him up just high enough to deliver a knee to the chin. That just about embodies this match, pairing violence with such wonderful, graphic detail.
There are such fabulous touches that emerge throughout, such as Abe surviving by catching the leg for a late submission. Everything seems so desperate and organic, a fight that truly feels alive. Ultimately, Nomura returns to the legs that he brutalised earlier, unknowingly walking into his own demise. This is a match that even without an emotional investment, gets better with each watch. There is such depth to both performances, every moment being worth dissection.
In a vacuum, this is a masterpiece but with wider context, it’s even more impressive. In this case, I don’t mean that in reference to the wrestlers and their relationship, either. Instead, I say that in celebration of what this achieves stylistically, standing apart as an outlier among the year’s most celebrated matches. That variety is necessary, particularly as the industry veers in a different direction. Don’t be fooled though, this is no hollow shootout, there’s something special here.
In a strange way, it feels most apparent after the final bell, as they respond to the bout as only friends could, framing the fight with something surprisingly warm. This is a remarkable match, one that’ll be mentioned frequently as the year concludes.
Eddie Edwards vs. Frankie Kazarian (IMPACT Wrestling)
Over the past fourth months or so, these two have become frequent foes. It begun with a sit-down interview, in which Frankie Kazarian unknowingly offended Eddie Edwards with his personal goals. As veterans, they had contrasting views on the promotion’s future, launching an extended feud that’s taken different shapes and forms since. At IMPACT 1000, that meant for a tag match, with Alisha Edwards and Traci Brooks accompanying the rivals in opposite corners.
While they’ve wrestled regularly as of late, IMPACT is the only promotion that these two have shared the ring for. Prior to 2014, they’d never done so, meeting for a handful of tag team matches as Edwards debuted in TNA. He’s been there ever since, with Kazarian soon departing only to return last year. Either way, this is their blowoff match, settling the score in a Killer Impact match. To be clear, that is a Three Stages of Hell bout, effectively.
The first fall is decided by pinfall, the second by submission and if necessary, the third by Last Man Standing rules. Considering their road to this point, they start in fitting fashion, trading blows until an eye poke halts Kazarian’s momentum. Though it’s a slim and seemingly tired crowd in attendance, Edwards does his best to get them onboard, talking trash before timing Boston Knee Party for the first fall. It feels sudden and a touch flat, though early falls are always challenging.
If nothing else, it at least came via strike, with Edwards’ knee being a believable flash knockout. In the match’s wider structure, it really just extends his emerging heat segment, dominating proceedings after that initial Kazarian burst. His time in control is steady but admittedly, quickly feels as though it’s being stretched for this bloated runtime. Nonetheless, there’s some strong physicality throughout, including a nice back suplex to the floor.
Kazarian’s chest is soon covered in blood, with Edwards’ chops becoming a centrepiece as his foe fights desperately. The people have no choice but to respond, as Kazarian’s comeback engages them further, then snatching a submission that Edwards quite violently boots himself free from. They do a good job of using submissions without losing the match to them, still going in their broader, rougher direction and just plugging those holds in for false finishes.
It’s a brief stretch also, with Kazarian tying things up before long. The match then changes, taking a different shape as it’s contested under Last Man Standing rules. To me, it becomes a less interesting match, though certainly not one without merit. Whereas the first two falls feel directly connected, this third piece feels like a separate piece that’s been attached, even with continued quality emerging throughout. It gets off to a red start, in particular.
As the weaponry soon emerges though, it slightly undercuts the grit of that second fall. As usual, it’s a formula that really works for those in attendance, it just felt familiar in a way that they could’ve avoided with the building blocks they’d put in place. Even still, Kazarian operates with vengeful rage, maintaining the spite that had begun to define the match. Edwards continues down that path also, scoring a horrifying belly to belly suplex that wipes out a ringside official.
There are some wonderful bursts of brawling too, it’s just a touch stop-start. Some of that is the shift in style, setting things up and even veering into shenanigans late. In fairness though, it’s partly the stipulation too, as the referee’s count somewhat hinders the bout’s flow. That’s a common issue with Last Man Standing matches and a very tough balance to strike, which even with strong content, I thought this bout struggled to navigate.
The aforementioned shenanigans arrive with Alisha Edwards, getting some comeuppance of her own as they conclude the feud. First and foremost, this is a quite remarkable effort from the two veterans, putting in a serious shift and producing an incredibly watchable television main event. At almost thirty minutes, I do think that it’s longer than necessary, but there’s an awful lot to like here. The second fall has a very distinct personality, building on the first and finding something refreshingly hateful.
Ideally, they would’ve stretched that first piece, increasing the drama of its sudden finish while allowing for a more compact deciding fall. Unfortunately, the third section is effected by its length, combining with the stipulation for a fall that slowly lost the bout’s prior rhythm. Even still, it’s a very good match that does an admirable job of engaging its live crowd, actively hooking them and finishing this rivalry in style.
It’s not without issues and stylistically, does begin to lose me as it swims deeper, but this went better than I would’ve expected, especially considering its runtime. I shouldn’t really be surprised though, as it’s clear that both men take an awful lot of pride in their work and even beyond that, flying the flag for their home promotion. IMPACT is a great spot for young talent to find their way but it’s also a place for veterans to push themselves, still overdelivering at the tail end of their career.
Though it wasn’t all for me, I found this to be an endearing watch, being wrestled with overwhelming enthusiasm and spirit.
Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW Royal Quest)
There is very little that I can write about this match that the graphic above didn’t imply. It is, as advertised, more of the same from two of wrestling’s safest bets. With that being said, this particular entry has a more distinct feeling for me personally, as I was lucky enough to be in attendance on Saturday. These shows are not shy about their approach or formula, operating as a house show until the double-main event conclusion.
I don’t mean that as an insult either, quite the opposite in fact. I love house show wrestling and London was thrilled to see their New Japan favourites, reacting gleefully as they played a hit or two within multi-man matches. That’s part of the appeal, as these international stars are welcomed by an audience that in person at least, doesn’t see them especially often. While that’s a nice appetiser though, the main course was still very much those aforementioned main events.
The first came between Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii, a familiar pairing in recent years. This was their seventh singles match, probably peaking with their first but producing more of the same since. Their last meeting came in the G1, falling a touch short of their standards with a routine that felt almost too pronounced. For some, this latest meeting will be guilty of similar crimes, but I’d be giving myself far too much credit by claiming that as my experience.
Instead, I was swept up in this all over again. Certainly, they quickly regain their usual form, meeting for shoulder tackles and trading forearms in centre ring. The latter is nothing new but they push it far enough to double their reaction. Things do slow down slightly from there, with Takagi settling into a hold, encouraging the people to embrace their adoration for Ishii. London accepts that offer, rooting him upright as they drift a little longer.
Those building blocks are soon irrelevant anyway, as a familiar firefight comes to life. Bombs, suplexes and stagger sells, you know the tune. The response is a standing ovation and as I’m sure you already assumed, this footage doesn’t do the Copper Box justice. The entire building felt immersed, reacting to every swing and miss, gasping at the horrifying hits to boot. That energy appears to fuel both men also, clobbering each other with increasing spite.
They ride that momentum too, producing an extended finishing stretch that exceeds expectations, making London feel as though it was in on a secret. It’s not so much what they do but just how much of it there is, pushing things to their absolute limit and ramping up the violence in doing so. If you’ve watched their prior meetings and wasn’t wildly in love, this entry is unlikely to change your mind. On the other hand, if you enjoy their usual efforts, this is the medicine for you.
While I’m closer to the latter, I’m certainly not immune to some fatigue when it comes to these matchups, but this soared over that hurdle for me. Obviously, much of that is due to my experience in the building, which was exhilarating, but I also think the footage speaks for itself. It actually held up much better than I expected on that front, as I was almost scared to revisit this after having such a blast with it live.
It’s not a groundbreaking match by any means, yet it goes a beat beyond what you’d expect in London, only being enhanced by that atmosphere. Great match from two of wrestling’s most reliable wrestlers, combining for wrestling’s most reliable match.
Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW Royal Quest)
Returning to London for the third Royal Quest event, New Japan brought their most logical headline act. In a clash comparable to the domestic dust-ups that have packed buildings for British Boxing, Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. met in a marquee main event. It’s not a new pairing, sharing fifteen singles matches previously. In fact, 2018 is the only year since 2014 that they haven’t wrestled, with this serving as their latest annual reunion.
Last year, they wrestled in the New Japan Cup quarter final, clashing in the second round one year prior. With that being said, an awful lot has changed since their last match in England, only wrestling twice in the three-plus years that have followed. Both men have greatly increased their global profile, with Ospreay especially climbing on that front, earning a reputation as one of the industry’s most acclaimed performers.
He’s also emerged as a heavyweight headliner, even becoming IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in 2021. On the other hand, ZSJ’s reputation and role have remained similar, though he has produced a superb 2023. As the inaugural NJPW World Television Champion, Sabre Jr. has added an awful lot to New Japan undercards, providing some much-needed variety. In addition, he’s made more appearances stateside, recently wrestling his most notable match opposite Bryan Danielson.
Together, they make for an interesting, if not somewhat uneven dynamic. Generally though, their talent is enough to smooth over any roughness around the edges, with this being no different. Their job is even easier here in fact, armed with a truly electric atmosphere. I made the comparison earlier and as the pre-match introductions and such took place, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in attendance for some all-British WBC Title fight.
That energy allows them to navigate things early, sharing a playful opening as ZSJ’s grappling advantage is established. Stylistically, this is an intriguing dynamic, as Sabre Jr. is almost walking a tightrope. He isn’t as athletic as Ospreay, nor does he hit as hard, but his usual route to victory remains wide-open. Ospreay is willing to walk a step or two down that path also, allowing Sabre Jr. to briefly target the left arm.
In response, Ospreay overpowers his foe, then uncorking some bombs. Much like Ospreay on the mat, Sabre Jr. is happy enough to test himself in a shootout. That encourages Ospreay to increase the pace, immediately overwhelming Zack along the way. The initial pacing feels just a smidge off, but the audience is so invested that it’s hard to dwell on, particularly as sharp work emerges throughout. Either way, Ospreay soon lures ZSJ back into that shootout, clobbering him to the mat.
Sabre Jr. is smart enough to remain in the game though, bringing Ospreay back into his world on occasion only to undo his strides with strikes. Whenever there’s an injection of pace, that gap widens too, as Ospreay frequently produces bursts that Zack is unable to contain. Nonetheless, the Television Champion continues to chip away, often going back to the left arm that he initially targeted. It doesn’t have much effect though, merely delaying the inevitable.
In fact, it’s becoming one-way traffic as they cross twenty minutes, with Sabre Jr. surviving by shifting his focus to the right arm. I found this to a slightly puzzling choice, though it is executed wonderfully well on offence. Especially late, Ospreay’s selling is hit or miss, which isn’t as much of a crime considering that it hadn’t been a match-long thread, though that produces some questions of its own.
I do like the idea of an opening emerging deep in the bout, it’s just slightly odd that they’d already flirted with building around Ospreay’s left arm. In addition, a late armbar returns to the original arm, making for a narrative that doesn’t quite match the work’s quality. Don’t get me wrong, a grappler can target more than one body part, it just undercuts the drama slightly when that element is so broad.
Nonetheless, Ospreay’s initial selling does have its moments, regretting some strikes as Sabre Jr. begins to take over. Back and forth bombs follow, drifting away from that direction for some spectacular offence. There are neat elements to accompany the fireworks also, including a glorious show of aggression as Zack headbutts the right arm. Ultimately though, it’s a match that lives and dies on its content, with any bigger concepts or ideas playing runner-up.
Most Ospreay matches fit that description, which I don’t mean as a scathing criticism, as he’s probably the world’s most dynamic offensive wrestler. This is a match that I truly loved in the building, which is another theme with Ospreay. He combines effort end execution in a way that’ll define his legacy, becoming one of most reliable headliners in recent memory. Crowds never leave an Ospreay main event wondering what could’ve been, he always goes the distance and beyond.
With that being said, I do think that they could’ve produced something more nuanced here, a match that I’d have appreciated more upon rewatch. Ultimately, that’s not the match they wrestled though and again, I adored this in the building, which is the core goal of a show-closer, obviously. On that level, it delivered and then some, matching the atmosphere with an exciting thriller, using the extended runtime to flirt with some different directions.
That somewhat vague nature felt a touch wasteful to me on viewings two and three but it’s still a very good main event, even if not quite the home-run that I believed I saw live.
Bryan Danielson vs. Christian Cage (AEW Collision)
Almost a decade removed from their last singles bout, Bryan Danielson and Christian Cage met again on Saturday’s Collision. Both men entered in rare form, with Cage seemingly peaking at 49 years old while Danielson builds a Wrestler of the Year case from just five months of work. Even with his time on the shelf, Danielson’s 2023 very much belongs in that conversation, producing a virtually flawless campaign. He added another hit on ‘Title Tuesday,’ earning this shot by defeating Swerve Strickland.
With just nine matches, Cage has already managed a transformative year, setting the stage with career-best character work before even wrestling regularly. Since July though, he’s been back at his in-ring best, putting some time in on Collision and formally winning the TNT Title. In his first official defence, Cage produced a borderline masterpiece opposite Darby Allin, closing WrestleDream with quite possibly his finest match yet. This latest outing wouldn’t quite threaten that feat, but it’d certainly add to the momentum of both.
It’s very much a Christian Cage match, with Bryan Danielson plugged in. I say that as a complete compliment to be clear, highlighting Cage’s brilliance as well as Danielson’s unmatched versatility. Ultimately, it’s only a Christian Cage match because so few wrestle this way anymore. In reality, it’s just a traditional main event, building gradually and focusing on key ideas. As they wrestle early, Danielson earns an immediate lead, unsurprisingly dominating the initial mat exchanges.
Cage adjusts accordingly, landing a cheap shot and targeting Danielson’s injured arm. Danielson certainly isn’t outgunned in a firefight though, uncorking some chops as Cage bails again. That allows him to take Cage back to the mat, then overwhelming him at ringside for good measure. Cage’s selflessness is central to the story they tell here, as it’s very clear that in just about every department, he’s noticeably outmatched. As a result, a shortcut is necessary.
It comes in the form of an eye poke, positioning Cage to restart his attack on the arm. At the first sign of success, Cage celebrates with a smug flex, earning some colourful chants in response. He has to really chip away in order to wrangle Danielson though, again being floored but avoiding the challenger’s diving headbutt. In an example of what separates the great from the greatest, Danielson lands directly on his arm and Cage capitalises, ramping up the spite.
He’s still unable to fully contain Danielson however, continuing to climb in that direction until an apron suplex does the trick, hooking the arm to boot. That transforms the match, with Danielson’s selling becoming much more desperate. He feels in genuine jeopardy, even being helped to his feet by the fans in attendance. There is something so powerful about that sight, as Danielson accepts their assistance, aware that he may not beat the count otherwise.
Cage is increasingly vicious also, pushing that window to victory even further open. Danielson finds an answer regardless, dishing out some headbutts and busting Cage open along the way. It’s suddenly a shootout, with Danielson opting to use his head rather than the injured right arm. This isn’t complicated or innovative, it’s better than that: truly timeless excellence. Toledo, Ohio is infatuated with it too, showing that some things just work forever, even if their star power obviously helps.
Danielson’s comeback is superb, with Cage playing a familiar tune or two in response, matching the challenger’s output as they near a finish. The more expansive elements never feel disconnected from the rest either, quite the opposite in fact. Danielson’s arm injury remains central, even preventing him from securing the LeBell Lock late. As the false finishes arrive, you hear a raw excitement in Tony Schiavone’s voice, something beyond his usual enthusiasm.
It’s a sincere admiration, fully aware that he’s experiencing a recognisable brand of greatness. It’s a breathtaking watch and even with an admittedly flat finish, one of the year’s best AEW TV matches. This is an example of how simple pro wrestling can be. It is not a match that relies on staggering feats of athleticism, though a few of those emerge along the way. instead, this is a direct story about an overmatched challenger who focuses enough on one target to level the playing field.
His work on the arm is so purposeful, only unlocked by Danielson’s remarkable selling. It’s perfectly paced too, maximising the extended runtime with a superb slow build. By the end, it’s outright electric, producing believable near falls in a match that was destined to end in interference. For me, this is about as good as television wrestling gets, two masters at work.
Bronson Reed vs. Gunther (WWE RAW)
In fear of being dramatic, Monday felt like the most important match of Bronson Reed’s WWE run thus far. Since returning last December, Reed has flirted with relevance, blowing hot and cold in both performance and push. He has been re-emphasised as of late though, scoring consecutive wins on the road to a shot at Intercontinental gold. In May, Reed was briefly part of the United States Title picture, but this was something a little different.
As Intercontinental Champion, Gunther has produced one of the greatest reigns in WWE history, becoming their finest current champion. In addition, he feels made to measure for Reed, the ideal opponent to unlock his potential. This was a match that I immediately circled as while I haven’t loved Reed’s work, I remain intrigued by the idea of what he could be, the monster that he’s shown flashes of previously. If it was ever going to emerge in WWE, this’d be the match.
I think that’s proven accurate too, even if still in the form of flashes. I’m not sure that Reed will ever quite be the monster that his frame suggests, but he is very capable offensively. That physical firepower means that even without the menace that I’d like to see, Reed can belong in these bigger matches. That’s particularly the case when he’s in there with someone who can lead, placing his bombs accordingly and actively assisting his hit or miss aura.
Gunther is all that and more, producing another superb performance here. Within the wider context of his reign, it’s a really interesting watch, as Gunther adds a different match to his WWE catalogue. There are similarities to the SmackDown bout with Braun Strowman, as Gunther wrestles tactically in a fashion that elevates the big man opposite him. Reed is a heel though, and is still relatively new to main roster audiences, meaning that Gunther is the wrestler that’s required to lean babyface.
That isn’t especially present early, as they simple establish Reed’s power and size, pushing Gunther back in their initial lockup. The champion immediately uncorks some combinations, rattling Reed with quantity only to be run over again. Where he sold those instances with caution and fear against Strowman though, Gunther is more persistent here, chipping away and giving the people something to cheer. He’s unable to land the powerbomb however, opting to wear Reed down instead.
The challenger can only be contained for so long, slamming himself free and following Gunther to the floor with his big shoulder tackle. As they return from an ad break, it’s clear that their approach has worked a treat, with duelling strikes allowing Oklahoma City to root Gunther forward. He subtly leans towards their support, firing up as he embraces his role as the match’s protagonist, operating as a virtual underdog at times.
On that front, he makes up the difference for Reed who again, still struggles to convey dominance. Here, he feels dominant due to Gunther’s performance in response, wrestling Reed as though he’s his toughest challenger yet. That allows Reed to do his thing on offence, where he’s certainly no passenger, landing a glorious death valley driver as well as the superplex. He does jump the gun a touch on his Tsunami, but Gunther’s retort is powerful enough to get them there anyway.
Leaning as far babyface as he can without clapping his hands and smiling, Gunther revs himself up to hit the powerbomb that eluded him earlier. This is a good match featuring a great Gunther performance. I don’t say that to suggest that Reed is bad in this either, as he has a genuinely nice showing and makes the most of the space given to him. With that being said, Gunther is otherworldly here, adding another hit to his resume.
There is such thought to this particular outing, portraying a role that really shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. It’s been clear as of late that Gunther has earned the WWE audience’s respect, but that’s a very different thing to working babyface overnight. Better yet, it’s even harder to work babyface without actually working babyface, simply taking a step or two in that direction to get the reaction that a match requires.
Gunther is a genuine all-time great and he did an awful lot for Reed here, presenting him in a fashion befitting his skill-set. Hopefully, Reed can take this triumph and build on it, as he’s obviously capable of an awful lot physically. Either way, a good match that while not in the top tier of Gunther defences, is one of his most brilliant performances.